It could be difficult to enrol a child in a school, even in your own country. And it's even tougher to do this in a different place, in a new foreign environment. Sometimes, even the most well-designed system can present unexpected challenges.
The most important aspect was psychological preparation, actually, which we started in advance. I had to explain to our daughters that their father found a new job and would be traveling for work; that he is waiting for us, and we will join him soon. There will be different schools, different children, and a different language, so they wouldn't experience such a strong shock. We didn't seek the help of psychologists, and I had these conversations with them personally.
In addition, our eldest daughter, Dunia, turned 7 in winter, and I thought she would go straight to primary school, Cycle 2.1. German is the main language of instruction there, so we found a teacher who gave her online language lessons. From the end of December, she had German lessons twice a week for 30 minutes.
Since none of the children had attended school before, we didn't have any documents to prove their academic performance, for example. We prepared notarized translations of their birth certificates in English, took their medical records from the kindergarten, and we also had their vaccination certificates on hand.
We had consent for the children to travel abroad, but it wasn't asked for. The only thing that confused the border guards was our surnames. My husband and I have different surnames; I kept mine, but the children have his surname. In the end, my inner passport with children's noters has been checked. After that, there were no more questions.
Everything starts with registering at the municipality. My case will probably be very atypical.
While we were preparing, I read information about the state school system in Luxembourg. Everyone wrote that the process is quite fast: you have to go to the municipality, they take care of everything, and enrol your child in school. I flew there, and I was sure that Dunia would be placed in school within a week, but it turned out to be much more interesting.
When we first went to the municipality, they refused to register us. The staff member said that since we are third-country nationals, non-EU citizens, we needed to first approach the immigration service.
"Wait," I said, "but my husband came earlier, and he was registered with no problem!"
"Yes, because he came from another municipality."
"Well, then we need to go there, but what should they give us?"
"I don't know, but they will help you."
The next day I went back to the immigration office with my children. There were secretaries sitting there. I went up to them and said: «So and so, they sent me to you». They seemed very surprised and told me they couldn't understand why we had come and what we wanted. But they gave me an email address to help.
I wrote to them. They replied the next working day. It turned out that we had done everything correctly and that the municipality should have registered us. They sent me a list of all the documents they could ask for, moreover, I kept the letter.
In the end, when I went back to the municipality, there was another employee who looked at the papers and registered us in literally a few minutes! At that stage, however, we had wasted a lot of time. I think our first visit was on March 23 and our second on March 28. In other words, we missed the official three-day registration deadline, but it seemed nobody really cared.
The further, the better. On our first visit to the local government office, the same official who had refused my application for registration referred me to the post office of the Ministry of Education. This is where all questions should go, he said.
So on the 31st of March, when we finally had the registration after the TB test, I wrote a letter. And the 31st of March is the last day before the Easter holidays. Of course, no one answered me during the holidays. I wrote another letter and then another. After the holidays I sent a reminder that I still hadn't heard anything.
This time I got an answer: "Have you registered with your local authority? If not, please register as soon as possible. Otherwise, the municipality should have sent your forms. Only after we have received your details we can take care of your children's schooling".
So I sent copies of our registration forms and decided to go back to the municipality the next day. My husband works in an office, it is the high season and it is very difficult for him to stay at home with children, so I had to take them with me.
What happened next:
- Hello, I sent a request to the education authority. They said they need a form from the municipality.
- Yes, they do, but we've already sent it!
- Well, when did you send it in?
I don't know what happened, but I think that the Department got a little worried and asked the council to get involved. Somehow I'm pretty sure that they did. Anyway, when I got home I wrote to the Ministry of Education again. This time they replied that they had received all the documents and had arranged an interview for me.
The interview took place in the canton's capital. We live in the town of Lorentzweiler. When we arrived, we were met by a very nice woman who took us into a separate room and explained some details.
My eldest daughter has been interviewed by a psychologist.
During the interview, the psychologist gave Dunia a number of mathematical problems to solve. Addition, subtraction, a couple of games, and they were all up to 20 numbers.
While my daughter did her problems, I spoke to the psychologist.I explained how school works in Russia. We go to school when we are seven, not four. We completed a questionnaire. As for the younger one, the psychologist said that she wasn't going to fill in any information because her main interest was in the older one. But she did make a note on the form that Dunia had a sister called Uliana.
When Dunia had finished the tasks, the psychologist had a look at the answers and said that she wouldn't have any problems with the first grade maths curriculum, but that she would have to speak German. Dunia needed to be tested.
Dunia was given the alphabet and here she was completely confused and did nothing. I explained that my daughter had only been studying the language for a few months. She was building up her vocabulary and everything would come with time. I asked her to do a translation of some of my sentences from Russian into German, which she did.
They offered to do one of two things. The first was to go to a regular school for a few months, it's cycle 2.1. But the problem was that German was weak and there was not enough time to learn it. The psychologist was afraid that her daughter would not have time to catch up on her knowledge and that she would have problems because she did not know Luxembourgish.
Going to a play school for a few months is the second option. That's cycle 1.2, the children are younger there. This option had several advantages: Dunia would start learning Luxembourgish and there would be no rush with German. She would get used to the new environment, get to know the children and she would have no homework, so the workload would be much less.
Of course, Dunia was a bit upset at first. But when I explained why this was necessary and what she would be doing, she cheered up and agreed to the second option. She will start school this week. There was no problem with enrollment to school in the middle of the year.
After the interview, we decided to take a day to think about it. The psychologist gave our questionnaire to the head of the education department and gave us her email address. I contacted her. She was very friendly, supported our choice and referred me to the president of the school board.
Again, we were very lucky: just half an hour after sending the message, the head of the department called me back and told me that she herself had already enrolled my daughters — the eldest in primary school and the younger Uliana in the local pre-school. The president of the school committee in turn passed on my telephone number to the teachers, and literally the same day I had a phone call from Dunia's future teacher with an appointment for a meeting.
The next day we arrived, and the girls had a look at the school, what the children were doing. The older daughter even did some arts and crafts while I had a chat with the teacher. And she was very happy!
I finally understood the whole scheme of how the school works. On Mondays the children go to the swimming pool, on Thursdays they go hiking in the woods, on Fridays they have sports lessons. On top of that, children are acquiring languages and basic academic skills.
The main problem with children as young as Dunia, as far as I've understood from what the psychologist said, is that there are no special integrated classes for them. This means that she would still be in cycle 2.1 if she went to school in Russia. Meanwhile, all additional integration with tutors and language courses is provided for older children who have already been studying in their own language for some time and who need to adapt very quickly to a new schooling environment.
I also noticed the problems with the timetable. The school has a standard daily routine for every type of school: daily from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and additionally from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On these days, a child must be collected between 12 noon and 2 pm, eat lunch at home and return to school. However, there is an option for after-school care.
This is the best option for parents like me. I don't work yet. Generally speaking, I could pick up my daughter, but I would have to do it with another child who is only 3.5 years old. As you can imagine, this is very time consuming.
The after-school care in Luxembourg is called Maison Relais. We found one that belongs to the Red Cross: they have several branches running guest houses for grandparents and also an after-school care for children.
Usually, the children stay there between classes. They have meals and games together. It is also possible to drop them off at other times of the day. You can pick them up later if you need to. I think they are open until 7pm. I have a timetable.
The biggest problem with the Maison Relais is that it might not even be available. According to my information, if both parents work, the child is automatically enrolled in after-school care center. However, if at least one of the parents does not work, like in my case, you can only get a place based on availability.
This is an even bigger problem in the capital but in less densely populated regions getting your child into Maison Relais can be easier.
To apply for enrollment, you need to submit a package of documents. I'm doing that right now. They will require information about the parents' work, their timetable, a photo of the child, medical certificates, vaccination cards and some others. The application form is provided in French.
But there are still good news! The state covers some part of the costs, though not all of them. In order to get compensation, you have to register for cheque service (CSA) in your commune of residence.
The girls and I went back. We presented the necessary documents, the most important of which was a payslip from my husband's job. You need to have recent payslips for three months, but as I discovered, it's no problem if you only have one. It's more complicated for those who don't have payslips at all. I actually don't know how freelancers do it, but there's got to be a system for them, I can't say for sure.
The staff member of Maison Relais of the Red Cross took the documents, made some calculations and gave us receipts. These showed how much we would pay and for what. In the end, we got the first 13 hours of childcare for free, and then we will have to pay for every hour above that. You can see the receipt itself, here it is:
This means that the state actually reimburses an impressive amount of the costs, and without such a service in place, the childcare bills are much more costly.
Another interesting thing to note is that the money spent on Maison Relais can be deducted at the end of the year. I don't know the details yet. I was told to come to the municipality when I will file my tax return, and they will help to do it right.
I have already downloaded the ClassDojo app that my teacher recommended. It's an application where teachers can upload photos of field trips, lessons, announcements, etc. Sort of a platform to communicate with parents about their children.
Another big plus is the school buses. They make several stops on the way to school to pick up children, take them to classes and bring them back.
In the municipality we have an attendant on the bus. This means you entrust the children to someone who looks after them. This is very practical because I can just put my oldest and youngest daughters on the bus without taking them to school myself.
The main disadvantage of the bus is that it picks children up in the morning, brings them home for lunch and goes back to school. It also picks up children in the evening after school. However, if a child is in Maison Relais, the parents have to pick them up themselves. Meaning that the bus always follows the general timetable.
Overall, I'm sure the girls are going to have a great time living and studying here.
Read more useful articles about school and preschool education, as well as after-school care for children in Luxembourg in our Knowlege Library:
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